The road out of Hades is paved with.. progression?
From action packed runs, an assortment of excellent characters and content that does not overstay its welcome, Hades is a well oiled machine, each cog a system within the game that all combine to deliver a seamless and excellent experience.
Hades follows the struggles of Zagreus as he tries to escape Hades in search of truths that have been kept from him his entire life. Despite being a roguelike, the story is still very much a centrepiece of the game and is smartly delivered through this genre, though most story advancement occurs in the House of Hades – your home base. The House features other characters that you come to develop relationships with and learn from, but also explore the existing relationships within Greek Mythology.
Whilst you unravel the mystery and the truth slowly through your runs, you also interact with various Olympian Gods. Each has their own rich history through Greek Mythology and Supergiant have used this to their strength as the relationships between characters are deep and meaningful. A large strength of the excellent writing is in the way the secondary characters have been brought alive with fitting personalities and how their histories from mythology have been adopted.
These gods play their part in the action as well, which is of course one of the many strengths of Hades. Combat is fast and satisfying, and like any good roguelike, variable. Variety comes in many ways, but the first choice is a weapon from which you have six to choose. Each feels strong in their own right and offered a different playstyle and I never truly had any least favourite. Weapons have 3 different forms that slightly change the way you play, like the bow giving you more critical chance or adding more arrows to your special attack. In addition to this each weapon has a secret form, which transforms the weapon’s playstyle.
Some criticism could be made of the variety that Hades offers in enemies and run structure for a roguelike. You go through the same 4 zones in the same order and will only face most enemies within a single zone. Rooms are not randomly generated and all are deliberately designed. In one breath this could be seen as negative, but this allows Supergiant to display the strength in their designs, each room is gorgeous in art style and each enemy is designed in such a way that whilst testing at first you will be ploughing through them in short enough time. This again speaks to strength in the design of Hades, progression and player skill are naturally ramping and very rarely will there be runs that can be seen as wasted.
Within each run there are of course ways to vary your playstyle, through Daedalus Hammers that change the weapon in some way, or the Boons given by the aforementioned gods as their way of helping you in your quest. Boons often offer a slightly unique visual to your attacks that they affect, which helps sell the fantasy that you are being assisted by these Olympian Gods. Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, often offers the ability to have one of your moveset deflect incoming attacks, or Poseiden, God of the Sea, helps your attacks to summon waves that damage and knock enemies back. The Boons and Hammers are the key to developing builds and can help you focus on applying damaging effects to enemies, dealing huge amounts of AoE damage or simply having a strong attack that limits the need to use your other moves.
Overall there is plenty of variety in the action of Hades, and even if you do not care for the story, the combat is strong enough to keep it as a must play action focused Roguelike. There can be a lot of particle effects during later parts of the run which can result in too much visual clutter which can be especially annoying considering the isometric perspective.
The progression in Hades is endless in many ways, with each and every system having some way to progress it. Though this is never overwhelming, as they are progressed through different currencies, and you have levels of control over what currencies you are obtaining. The currencies can be considered in two different forms, room rewards and boss rewards. Naturally, room rewards are the more common occurrences, and you have the benefit of being able to choose a room based on the reward. Boss rewards come from defeating the bosses and can feel a bit more limited if, like me, you take longer than average to get your first clear of Hades. Bosses will only give their reward the first time you defeat them with a weapon, following that they will give out a large amount of Darkness, a regular room reward used for purchasing talents.
Once you have cleared your first run, you have access to the boss rewards again when defeating them by enacting Pacts of Punishment. Pact of Punishments act as the end game and a clever way to up the difficulty, in a way that you can tailor to your playstyle. You can choose to face more enemies, or take more damage from traps or give the bosses an extra move set so that you can up the difficulty and continue progressing in a way that you think you can manage. There is no option for an easy or hard mode, this is managed through the pacts of punishment once you have cleared a run. Easy mode is done differently as you have the option to turn on God Mode. This mode allows you to slowly develop damage resistance every time you die, so that you are still able to progress if you are struggling with the runs. Another clever design choice considering the roguelike nature of the game.
If you had not heard already, rolling credits on Hades can be a long process and demands a far larger time commitment than any of Supergiant’s previous games. I only experienced a small period before my first clear in which I was frustrated by my lack of clearing run. This feeling soon left and I committed dozens more hours without skipping a beat. Hades was truly an excellent and well balanced experience, and a game that I think I will dip back into runs for a long time to come.